This tutorial will teach you how to create a simple and free academic website using GitHub pages. Click here to see what this website will look like.

At the end of the tutorial you will have a website up and running at http://username.github.io (where username is your username). There is a link at the end with instructions for adding a custom domain name (e.g. marisacarlos.com).

There are many other ways to create a website, one of which is using a website builder such as Wix. Websites created by Wix are definitely fancier than this one, however, the simple GitHub Pages website has the following advantages:

  • It is completely free. A website built with Wix is only free if you are okay with the Wix ads and don’t want to connect a custom domain. Adding a custom domain on Wix will cost you $60/year and removing the ads will cost you another $72/year.
    • Note: Registering a custom domain name is never free, regardless of whether you connect it to a Wix site or a GitHub pages site. The difference is that GitHub won’t charge you to connect the custom domain, but Wix will. In both cases you have to pay the Domain Name Registrar. Instructions on this are at the end of this tutorial.
  • The Wix website builder requires a lot of memory. My computer is old-ish, and I have no patience for memory-intensive websites in which there is a delay between when I click and drag something and when the object acutally moves.
  • Creating this website can be an incentive to learn Git/GitHub, which I think every researcher should be using.

For those who have never used GitHub or Git:

Download the website files and create your repository:

Note: Everything written in a grey code box are commands. For Mac users, you will run these in the Terminal (spotlight search Terminal if you've never used it or see my tutorial on the command line.). For Windows users you will run them using Git Bash, which can be found in the Git folder.

  1. Figure out where you want to store all of the files for your website. When you clone my directory, it will create a folder called “simple_academic_website” in your current working dirctory. Navigate to that directory and then clone the repository:
    cd "path to where I want to store the folder"
    git clone https://github.com/mbcarlos/simple_academic_website.git
    

    You can of course always move the folder to another place later on if you wish.

  2. Navigate to the directory you just cloned:
    cd simple_academic_website
    
  3. Go to the command line (Terminal/Git Bash) and remove the .git directory using the command rm -rf .git.

    WARNING: Be careful with this command as it removes a non-empty directory without asking you for confirmation. It will NOT send your files to the trash - it will remove them forever.

    rm -rf .git
    
  4. Initialize the git repository. This adds a file called .git that tracks all of the changes to the files in the directory and subdirectories.
    git init
    
  5. Use git add to add these files to your next commit:
    git add .
    

    Note that git add . will add ALL of the files in your current directory and all subdirectories. It won’t add the files in the directory above the one you ar currently in. If you want to add only specific files you can type:

    git add filename.filesuffix
    

    Note: Most of the time when you enter a command at the command prompt you won't see any output written to the screen after the command is executed. If you enter a command and are returned to the command prompt (as in, you see the $ next to a blank line) then the command executed correctly.

    Note: At any time you can check to see what has been staged for commit, what has changes but isn't yet staged for commit, and which files are untracked by typing:

    git status
    
  6. Commit the changes:
    git commit -m "write whatever message you want to describe this commit"
    

    Note 1: You might get an error at this point asking you to set your name and email in the configuration settings. Follow the instructions on the screen to do this.

    Note 2: You have to type a commit message. If you just type git commit you will open up the message editor which is confusing and difficult to get out of. If you do get stuck in it, see this Stackexchange thread for mac and this one for Windows.

  7. Go to the GitHub website and create a new repository. You must call this repository username.github.io. If your username is blueham it will look like this: create_new_repository (click to zoom)

  8. Go back to the command line (Terminal/Git Bash) and push (upload) all of your files in your website folder to github.
    git remote add origin https://github.com/username/username.github.io.git
    git push -u origin master
    

    You will be prompted to enter your username and password.

    Note: You will only have to issue the command git remote add origin ... once. This sets the URL for your github repository, which only needs to be done once.

  9. Your website should now be live at https://username.github.io. You can check to make sure this is the case by going to the settings tab github_settings (click to zoom)

    and scrolling down to the GitHub Pages section github_settings_pages (click to zoom)

Update the website files with your info:

Now you have all of the files you need stored on your computer. Edit the following files using a text editor (you CANNOT edit them using Microsoft Word or a similar program, you need to use a plain-text editor. Sublime Text is a good options and Notepad++ (which is built in) is a good option Windows).

  • ReadMe.md: This is the file you’ll see displayed on the home page of your GitHub repository

  • _config.yml: Edit lines 11-18 (title - production URL) with your info. The “Title” will be what shows up in the top left-hand corner of every page. (Note: I don’t fully understand what this file does, so I can’t provide much insight on what might happen if you mess with it…)

  • index.md: This is where you will edit the info that shows up on the home page.
    • In the top header (the stuff at the very top between the two sets of dashes) edit the title, a description of your website, and some keywords. Below the header, edit the text you want to show up on the main page.

    • The curriculum vitae link does not need to be changed (I’ll show you where to store your CV below).

    • In the <div class=”container”> section change the name and email.

    • Change the name below <img src="../assets/headshot.jpg"

    • In the <div class="navbar"> section you can add or remove things from the footer navigation bar. The link to the CV does not need to be changed, but you can add your github URL and username and twitter URL and username. Alternatively you can remove these if you don’t want them, or add an additional field. Note that this footer navigation bar only shows up on the home page.

  • pages/research.md: This is the page you will get to by clicking the “research” tab in the top navigation bar. You can add descriptions of your research and link to working papers and code (or whatever you want).

    • Edit the description in the header.

    • If you want to link to working papers, you can add them to the folder pages/working_papers and link to them from this page.

  • _includes/themes/twitter/default.html: This is the file you can update if you want to change the navigation bar at the top. For example, if you wanted to add a “tutorials” page and link you would add the following code to the <ul class=”nav”> section:
    <li><a href="/pages/tutorials.html">tutorials</a></li>
    

    Then you would create a page called tutorials.md and store it in the pages directory. The tutorials page would follow the same syntax as research.md or index.md.

  • Edit 404.md to include your email address (this is the page that will come up anytime someone tries to go to page within username.github.io that does not exist)
  • Replace the CV and headshot with your own. These are stored in the assets/ folder. Keep the names CV.pdf and headshot.jpg so that the pages that link to them continue to work.

Publish your website:

The last step is to push all of the changes you made to your GitHub repository. To do this do the following (assuming you are in your top directory - which is the directory that contains the pages and assets folders):

git add .
git commit -m "update my website"
git push -u origin master

Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the pages to refresh, but at this point you should have an active website at http://username.github.io.

Adding a custom domain name (yourname.com)

To add your own custom domain, follow the instructions on github. Note that you’ll first need to purchase the domain name. I purchased mine from GoDaddy, but there are other options.

Extra Customization

If you want to make any changes to the overall look of the website, you can update the custom CSS file at assets/themes/twitter/css/my_custom_css.css.

Here are some examples of things you can add/modify.

Change the color of the navigation bars:

Adding the code below to my_custom_css.css will change the color of the navigation bars to a light blue. Changing the color values (which are prefixed by #) will change the colors of the navigation bar. Browse the available colors at w3schools.com.

.navbar-inner {
    min-height:40px;
    padding-left:20px;
    padding-right:20px;
    background-color:#fafafa;
    background-image:-moz-linear-gradient(top, #edffff, #e3ffff);
    background-image:-webkit-gradient(linear, 0 0, 0 100%, from(#edffff), to(#f2f2f2));
    background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(top, #edffff, #e3ffff);
    background-image:-o-linear-gradient(top, #edffff, #e3ffff);
    background-image:linear-gradient(to bottom, #edffff, #e3ffff);
    background-repeat:repeat-x;filter:progid:DXImageTransform.Microsoft.gradient(startColorstr='#ffffffff', endColorstr='#fff2f2f2', GradientType=0);
    border:1px solid #edffff;
    -webkit-border-radius:4px;
    -moz-border-radius:4px;
    border-radius:4px;
    -webkit-box-shadow:0 1px 4px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.065);
    -moz-box-shadow:0 1px 4px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.065);
    box-shadow:0 1px 4px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.065);*zoom:1;
}
Change the color of the headers:

To change the color of the headers you need to edit the existing line in my_custom_css.css:

h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 {
    color: darkslateblue;
}

You can change the color to a recognized name or a hex value (see here for more info). For example, if I wanted to change the headers from the current color (darkslateblue) to blueviolet, I could change the code to:

h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 {
    color: blueviolet;
}

which would be the same as:

h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 {
    color: #8a2be2;
}